Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Matt Kalil

Minnesota Vikings
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Welcome to the next installment of our Minnesota Vikings Free Agency Primer series: the running backs. Check out our other primers on tight ends, defensive ends, cornerbacks, safetiesquarterbacks, wideoutsdefensive tackles and running backs.

Does everybody have their hard hats and tool belts on? Good, because we’re about to embark on the rebuilding project of our lives.

LAST SEASON

The Minnesota Vikings offensive line can only improve after the utter destruction that unfolded in 2016.

Improvement appeared inevitable for the Vikings offensive line when general manager Rick Spielman acquired Alex Boone and Andre Smith during the 2016 free agency period. Matt Kalil was finally getting the chance to play with a competent left guard. Additionally, Joe Berger and Mike Harris were set to return to the starting lineup after rock solid 2015 campaigns.

Instead, a catastrophically lethal injury bug permeated the unit and knocked Kalil, Smith, and Harris out of commission before Week 5. Spielman then acquired Jake Long to provide depth. Long made it exactly four weeks and three games before tearing his Achilles.

Minnesota was forced to move forward the rest of the 2016 season with TJ Clemmings and Jeremiah Sirles starting at the bookends of the offensive line. Meanwhile, Joe Berger and Brandon Fusco sparingly missed action which called a laundry list of benchwarmers into action.

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Improving the OL a top priority

T.J. Clemmings is the only Minnesota Vikings tackle under contract heading into free agency. Matt Kalil, Andre Smith, Jake Long, and Jeremiah Sirles—the rotation of subpar 2016 starters—are all set to hit the open market next week. Some will become restricted free agents, others exclusive rights, and a few unrestricted, but one thing remains true: the Vikings are lacking any sustainability at a position critical to long-term success.

That’s a problem.

Even if general manager Rick Spielman were to retain their talents, he’d still enter 2017 with arguably the league’s worst rotation of tackles. Fortunately, the Vikings are flush with cash, thanks in large part to the decision to forego Adrian Peterson’s future contract option.

The NFLPA also did the Vikings—and the rest of the NFL—a favor by raising the salary cap to $167 million. An increase of seven percent over the 2016 figure gives Spielman nearly $38 million to spend on premier tackles, running backs, and other positions of need — if he so chooses.

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Interest in OT Russell Okung

Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman knows he needs to address his team’s offensive line woes. According to Jason La Canfora, Spielman isn’t wasting any time, as he’s already begun the search for help at tackle.

The Vikings join the New York Jets, San Diego Chargers, and New York Giants as potential suitors for Russell Okung, the recently-released Denver Broncos left tackle. Okung, a first-round pick out of Oklahoma State in 2010, has started 88 games in his seven-year career. The 29-year-old veteran appeared in the 2012 Pro Bowl and finished 2016 as Pro Football Focus’s 38th-ranked tackle.

Zack Johnson — OG, North Dakota State University

Measurements

Height – 6’4″

Weight – 331 lbs.

Age – 23

At First Glance

Johnson graduated from Eastview High School in 2012 with a destination already set in stone; he’d committed to North Dakota State on October 4, 2011. The 6’3,” 305-pound tackle from St. Paul, Minnesota was named to the Associated Press and Minnesota Coaches Association all-state second team his senior season and arrived in Fargo with plenty of local pedigree.

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